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Leskanic may come aboard

SAN FRANCISCO -- With the Red Sox poised to sign veteran righthanded reliever Curtis Leskanic, several players endorsed the move yesterday even as it serves as a strong reminder the Sox will not shy from tweaking the roster to improve it.

Leskanic, 36, who was released by the Royals last week as a cost-cutting measure, would be an inexpensive gamble since he would earn only the balance of the $300,000 major league minimum, about $175,000. After he received a cortisone shot in his surgically repaired right shoulder May 3, according to the Kansas City Star, Leskanic logged a 2.16 ERA in 10 appearances and held opponents scoreless in nine of them.

"I can still throw 94-95 miles an hour and, if I pitch every two or three days like I did last year, I guarantee you I'll be able to throw even a little harder," he was quoted by the Star.

Leskanic, who posted a 1.73 ERA over 27 games after the Royals acquired him last year from the Brewers, was 0-3 with an 8.04 ERA this season when Kansas City released him. The Royals owe him the balance of his $1.375 million salary but avoided the possibility of Leskanic earning an additional $1 million in performance bonuses.

"Curtis is a hell of a pitcher," said Ellis Burks, who played with Leskanic on the Rockies (they traded the righthander to the Brewers in 1999). "He throws 95 miles an hour with a nice split and slider. I like the kid."

The Sox bullpen leads the American League with a 3.28 ERA and ranks second only to the Dodgers (2.88) in the majors, though it has tailed off after a sensational start and surrendered home runs that buried the team in the two losses against the Giants. Leskanic, who is 47-32 with a 4.39 ERA over 11 seasons, could provide some depth. He most likely would replace lefthander Mark Malaska since the Sox need to keep Rule 5 lefty Lenny DiNardo on the big league roster the entire season or offer him back to the Mets.

The major concern is Leskanic's shoulder. He missed the 2002 season after surgery to repair a torn labrum and the Star reported that he has a partial tear in his rotator cuff.

"He's got good stuff, he's a good competitor, and he's got a great outgoing personality," Alan Embree said. "He's had an injury bug in the past, but if [we] were to pick him up, I think it would be great. It's probably not much of a gamble monetarily, so take a shot at it."

Ramirez rests

The Sox bowed to the Giants without Manny Ramirez in the starting lineup. Ramirez had started 35 straight games and all but one game this season. He missed the game May 10 to become a US citizen in Miami. Ramirez has scuffled through a 4-for-19 stretch (.211), though he led the league in home runs (18) and slugging percentage (.637) and ranked third in on-base percentage (.437) heading into yesterday.

"With the long flight [to Boston], this will give him back-to-back days because he's certainly not going to get them very often," Francona said before the game. "He'll be available to pinch hit and help us win, so we're trying to pick our spots and use good judgment."

Francona, who did not use Ramirez as a pinch hitter, indicated he also decided to give Ramirez the day off because Kevin Millar, who played left field, was a career 5 for 6 against Giants ace Jason Schmidt. Millar went 0 for 2 with a walk but hit one of the best shots of the day off Schmidt, forcing Barry Bonds to crash into the left-field wall to catch it.

Minor audition

The interest in Leskanic indicates the Sox may not be banking on a major contribution from Ramiro Mendoza. The righthander, who has languished on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis since April 9 in the final season of his two-year, $6.5 million commitment to the Sox, worked his way up to Triple A Pawtucket yesterday for a rehab assignment. He started against Norfolk and went two innings, allowing one hit (a solo home run). He walked none and struck out none, throwing 23 pitches. He will work again for the PawSox Thursday . . . Bronson Arroyo began walking back to the dugout, bat in hand, after missing an attempted bunt for a third strike in the sixth inning. But with Arroyo halfway to the dugout, Francona and a number of players, especially Jason Varitek, began yelling at Arroyo to run to first. Giants catcher A.J. Pierzynski had boxed the pitch in front of him and had failed to throw to first to record the out. "Jason was sitting next to me and we had that exact conversation about a week ago," Francona said. "We'd even gone to the rulebook." Arroyo, who beat Pierzynski's throw to first, would have been out had he stepped into the dugout. Arroyo (2-6) struck out a career-high seven batters as he lowered his ERA to 4.76 . . . The last time the Sox were shut out was Sept. 17 against Tampa Bay, a span of 78 games. The last complete-game shutout against them was by Tim Hudson of the A's Aug. 11 . . . Schmidt threw 133 pitches and fired first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 31 batters . . . The attendance for the three-game series was 127,644, just shy of the three-game series record at SBC Park (127,754) set last June against LA. 

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